Sunday, 30 December 2012

Are We Nearly There Yet?

When I first flew to Australia that was the longest time I had ever spent on a plane. Not only that to get to Heathrow I had taken the train from Aberdeen so already spent a large part of my day travelling before I even made it to the airport. I travelled to the other side of the globe and to the other hemisphere so surely this would be the longest journey I would ever undertake? Boy was I wrong. I left Broome for my friends’ house at 07:00 on the 22nd of December and arrived there after 18:00 on the 24th of December and only a three hour time difference.

So how did it take so long to get there? Well since I am so indecisive and played the will I or won’t I leave game in my head for over  a month by the time I arranged a leaving date with my manager I seemed to have agreed to stay until just before Christmas. Having left it so long the flights had become unsurprisingly expensive so I booked myself on to the bus. Broome to Perth: 2370km or 33 hours and 20 minutes on the bus. After getting the bus from Sydney to Melbourne which was about 20 hours if I remember correctly I am sure I swore no more than a day on a bus, however for a saving of over $300 I was willing to eat those words. Of course it might have been more interesting had myself and a friend communicated since she left on the same journey four days before me instead I got the benefit of her experience. She reminded me that the buses get cold and to layer up and whilst seeing her off I saw people with multiple water bottles and took note to make sure I did the same.

Therefore I arrived at the bus stop alone but well prepared. You know something, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Two other people close to my age got on and we were sat near one another. We got chatting and after the girl left the guy and I continued to talk which I was really thankful for later. Now I am not going to have a size-est rant but when a lady of extremely large proportions sat beside me my heart sank. I was wedged between the window and her large frame. Even turning the pages of my book was difficult. Thankfully it wasn’t long until the next stop and my new friend had been moved to sit beside a sprawler. In case you need clarification this is the person who will sit with their legs apart and arms on your seat with a complete disregard for personal space.  So bus friend and I had a chat and decided to ask to be moved to sit together, even better he preferred the aisle seat and I the window. Well it worked out great for me but apparently I felt quite comfortable with this guy because instead of my usual position of hugging of the window when I fell asleep I decided to spread out and he was worse off than before. I maintain that he should have shoved me over and/or woken me up but he kindly let me sleep and contented himself with winding me up about it for the rest of the journey. That aside we kept each other and a few other passengers who joined us company all the way to Perth. In-between the random chats and napping I also managed to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This is a book I was lent last year when I was working in the mountains but only managed to get 2/3 of the way through before the friend who lent it to me and I went our separate ways. I’m glad I didn’t finish it. I am in a very different place now and a lot of what Pirsig wrote made sense and rang bells with me now in a way it wouldn’t have last year. Some of it I couldn’t grasp on the first reading. It is definitely one of those nooks which has to be read repeatedly, especially for someone with a scientific rather than philosophical background.

Due to various delays we arrived in Perth at 17:30 on the 22nd of December, an hour and 10 minutes later than scheduled. I had spent thirty four hours and thirty minutes on that bus. Thankfully the hostel was only two stops on the train and a short walk away. Once checked in I dug out the necessary and headed straight to the shower. Ah, pure bliss! Once I was showered my next priority was to book a taxi for 6:20am the next morning. I had considered going straight to the airport on the last bus that night thus saving myself the taxi and hostel costs but my friend who had preceded me on the earlier bus was still in the city so the manager of my Broome hostel phoned and booked me into the same room. I am soooooo glad. The shower alone justified the cost but seeing my friend again and spending the evening with her made it worth every cent.

The next morning I was up early again and on my way once more. My taxi was waiting when I left the hostel and I didn’t have far to go to check in and drop my luggage however I had difficulty checking my backpack in as it kept falling over making it difficult for the machine to scan it. A helpful staff member sorted that out for me then another helpful lady helped me pay for my excess baggage on the check in systems. I could have become flustered; I had too much stuff and my carry on bay was a food bag from Coles which was I was afraid would not last the journey. However with much juggling of possessions I made it through to the departure lounge and even managed to buy a muffin and some water before finding a much needed seat. I am glad I didn’t let my disorganisation get to me as if I had been in a bad mood I would have missed out on an interesting conversation with a lovely older lady who joined me at my table whilst we waited for out flights. She was had accompanied her daughter to the airport as her daughter was on her way to Melbourne to visit her son for Christmas. In the thirty minutes I waited for my flight this lady and I kept each other company whilst her daughter sorted herself out. The muffing and conversation put me in a really good mood so even the juggling of my bag and laptop didn’t faze me as I boarded my flight.

 Once on the plane it soon became apparent that the family assigned the seats next to me would find their journey easier if I swapped with one of them. I immediately offered to swap and moved two seats back and apparently impressed one of the stewardesses in the process as she promised to look after me. She really was lovely, we had chatted as I boarded and I joked that maybe I could swap my bulky laptop for one of the iPads that Qantas now use to provide their in-flight entertainment. Obviously I was only joking but even if I hadn’t been I would have changed my mind. The iPad was fun but after watching one movie on it I soon became bored and returned to my own laptop out so I could access my own files.

Despite her promise to look after me I didn’t think there was anything the stewardess could  do for me as most of the time I am an undemanding passenger but I was proven wrong. Whilst writing my blog in the later part of the flight she offered a complimentary glass of champagne for being so lovely. Who says kindness doesn’t pay? Even more impressively, as we came in to land she also gave me a bottle of red wine to share with the family. I already preferred Qantas to Emirates but seriously folks, fly Qantas! I’m happy to say that next May I will be on my return to Australia. My only complaint was that we arrive half an hour early and I wasn’t finished writing my blog.

Finally I was in Sydney! All I had to do was to collect my luggage and find the pick-up point and wait for my friend to find me. Well it took her a little longer than anticipated but she finally worked where I was and how to get to me despite the airports one way system and I was on my final leg of the journey. An hour and a half later and we were at her home being welcomed by her lovely family in their very Christmassy home. I had arrived and it was quite definitely Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Holiday in Broome

For my last few weeks in Broome I gave myself a holiday. Initially it was meant to be a week off but one week turned in to two when I caught a stomach bug and felt too ill to do much more than lie in bed and feel sorry for myself on my days off. Even when I went back to work I was not eating much and tiring easily so I spent more time sitting around the hostel in the common area. This led to getting to know the folks I’d been saying hi to in the passing for the last few months and that was the end of my studying. I did consider taking it back up once or twice but the heat and humidity got to me so it’s on hold until I find somewhere cooler or at least with an air conditioned computer room! This means that I spent a fair amount of my final few weeks getting to know my ‘new’ friends.

One of the many upsides to this was that I finally got to go to my work for dinner as a customer as well as try out a Japanese fusion restaurant not far from our hostel.  Another upside was that though I have had a lot more alcohol in the last few weeks than I have in the last few months each time I have been drinking I have gotten to a point where I have felt the need to stop, something that rarely happened before my drinking sabbatical. Since I am a complete lightweight the fact I can stop means that I can now have cheap but fun nights out. Also the friends I made were very accepting of my limited drinking and didn’t push me to drink when I was abstaining or to continue drinking when I said I wanted to stop, definitely keepers those girls. On one level I am a little sad that I didn’t get to know them properly sooner but I did need my time out to sort my head out and save some money.

The downside of getting to know people and re-entering the human race is that I have been spending more money. However, I have enough saved that I shall not starve whilst I look for work back east so I don’t regret my lack of savings in my final weeks. Of course some of that was down to Christmas looming. Ah Christmas. How I usually dread thee. This year though it was different. For one thing there was a pleasant lack of Christmas songs at my work. On the 1st of December one of our duty managers started us decorating the place but since I am used to ‘seeing’ Christmas as early as November or even October this didn’t really make me feel like it was happening. It was a similar story at the hostel. I didn’t feel anywhere like I was having Christmas shoved down my throat like they do in the cities. Even the count downs on facebook kept taking me by surprise.  I knew it was coming but it just always seemed to be at some distant point in the future.

During my last week in Broome two of my ‘new’ friends were leaving the same week as me but a few days before.  I was sad to see them go and though we had only recently spent time together I missed them in my last few days. The sadness wasn’t too bad though as I am sure I shall see them again, in fact I shall be seeing one of them on my one night in Perth on my way to Sydney. That’s one of the awesome things about the backpacking lifestyle, it’s surprising how easy it can be to see your friends again if you really want to. My last shift in work was pretty normal, we were kept busy enough and I was able to finish at 9pm and have a last meal and a few drinks. Some of the staff stayed behind to share a few drinks with me and then I went with a few of them to the local club as some people I knew were meant to be there. The joy of staying in a hostel is that though the folks I thought would be there weren’t others were and were happy for me to join them for a few drinks. I can’t say I was overly taken with the club so I left after my second drink. It might have been a flat end to my night but a friend was kicking about at the hostel and we had one of those interesting conversations you can only have when one of you is drunk enough to be philosophical but not falling over and the other is sober but laid back and bored enough to be amused by this.

My last day in Broome was different. For one I was properly hungover for the first time in over six months. That’s what I get for mixing my drinks and not drinking enough water before bed. The other was that I hardly knew anyone left. I had some last minute bits and piece to buy so took a walk to the shops since I was now bikeless having donated it to a guy at my work the previous evening. I finished off my food at the hostel and gave back my kitchen bag in return for my $10 deposit, then I returned my blanket which resulted in another $10 being returned to me and I thought, woo hoo dinner. Of course that didn’t quite work out. After a quick dash to my work to return my work shirts I had to continue with my packing. I started it at about 1pm and managed to finish it about 11pm. I have no idea how many times I packed unpacked and repacked but I do know I seem to have acquired an awful lot of stuff in four months which could explain why I have less savings than I had hoped. A friend did instruct me to throw things out but I’m not very good at that. Maybe once I get to Sydney and have the moral support of a good friend  I’ll be able to face a clear out because apart from a few tops I got it all in there, even if for the first time since I got it I had to join  my two bags together to make one larger bag. Oh yeah and it was too heavy to lift, oops. Definitely time for a clear out before I start travelling again!

One of my many packing avoidance breaks was to go get an ice cream and crisps for dinner, I don’t care what you think of me I enjoyed that dinner. Of course the excellent company helped. I didn’t get to know many people at the hostel well so I was pleasantly surprised when one of the girls who I had a habit of conversing with in passing made an effort to see me and chat before I left. Once more I was glad I had gotten to talk properly with her whilst being a little sad that I hadn’t done it sooner but once more I am hopeful that we shall meet again during our travels as the backpacking community is a lot smaller than you might think, especially with the wonder of facebook.

Finally the day had arrived and it was my turn to leave. I got up at 5 am so I could make a call home before the long journey began then it was back to my room for that last minute packing and re-arranging and it was time to go. The place was more or less deserted as I mentally said good bye but I did bump into the manager on my way out and got a goodbye hug. Then it was see you later to my home of the last four months because of course I shall be back, just a soon as that pesky brother of mine and his fiancée have tied the knot.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Thoughts on Taking a Break

Way back in June I decided that it was time to take back control of my life which included giving up alcohol for a while. I felt that I had taken the living life in the moment concept too far, my lifestyle and my personality were conflicted and my grieving process had hit a brick wall. In short I felt like I was a complete mess. Therefore when I arrived in Australia, much too some peoples chagrin, I stuck to my no drinking rule. When my funds got low I accepted that the sensible thing to do would be to get a job in Perth and stay put instead of trying to travel north and run out of money somewhere along the way with no idea if I could find employment or not. When it became obvious that I wasn’t settling in Perth I saved as much as I could and moved on as soon as I felt I had enough money to live off of whilst I job hunted. I even postponed my plans to tour the west coast and flew straight to Broome on the understanding that I shouldn’t spend the money I had until I knew there would be more coming in to replace it.

Once more I was fortunate enough to find work quickly but my caution was well deserved as I needed to live off my savings whilst I waited for my first pay. Once I was earning I let myself go a little. Instead of saving I spent my wages on tours as though I hope to tour the west coast next May I wanted to see what I could whilst I was here since I am well aware that plans don’t always work out. Once the tours started to stop I started to save and study. Though I hadn’t planned it this way as well as stopping drinking I also stopped socialising. I wasn’t in any hurry to make friends and the people I did get to know were mostly by accident; the odd person passing through Broome on their way north or south and of course my study buddy. Instead of taking a break from drinking I ended up taking a break from life. I got lonely and I missed my friends but I saved and I studied and I knew I was building something for my future. Through my counselling sessions I realised that I also have a few trust issues. I don’t trust myself to be a good judge of character which has made me hesitant about trying to form new friendships. What if I trust the wrong person?

Well in the last few weeks I have rejoined the human race. It has involved some drinking but not a lot and not often. I’ve made friends with some people that I think I shall not mind leaving behind but I also made friends with some people who I am sad to leave behind (or be left behind my in two cases!). I’ve often read that is the things we don’t do that we regret the most and I think that I finally understand this. Yes I have done some stupid things in my past but mostly those things now make me smile at their ridiculousness or sheer idiocy however I needed this time out. I needed to go to the other extreme of control so I could fully appreciate that there is a happy medium. I’m not sure where that medium is yet but for the first time in over three years I feel like I am me. Not the me I was before Jonathan died or even the me before I met him, I am the new me and I am starting to grow comfortable with who that is. It’s hard and there is guilt because Jonathan never got to find out who he was without me. There is guilt because I love my life and have no desire for a life that resembles my old life in any way. That doesn’t mean I am glad Jonathan is gone or I wouldn’t have him and our life back in a heartbeat it just means I don’t want that life without him. If I meet someone else they’ll be very different because I am so different and I want different things. I realised a lot of this last year when I was travelling but I ignored the guilt. I pretended that the two lives were separate and unconnected. My time out has given me time to start to accept that they are not separate and I can be grateful for what I have without taking anything away from what I had. The guilt is still there but now I know it’s there and that means I can start working out what to do about it. For now though I think I’ll work on the acceptance of the new me and my new life. After all I know that all my friends, families and especially Jonathan would want me to be happy with how things are because no amount of guilt, wishing or anything else will make it how I though it should be once upon a time.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

STILL in Broome but not for long....

Having booked my flights to leave Broome before Christmas it wasn’t long before I started to question my actions. I had intended to stay in Broome until mid January but then I hadn’t counted on being invited to stay with my east coast friends for the holidays. Also despite my best intentions I really was ready to move on. In fact I was considering moving up to Darwin but the fact that I had booked my flight to Sydney from Perth and that I had a few counselling sessions booked in stopped me. As our customer base switched from tourists to local the hours at work became scarcer and our busy periods fell in to those of a normal restaurant. Whereas before there was barely time to catch our breath between breakfast and lunch then lunch and dinner I found myself taking 1-2 hour breaks. One day I even volunteered to take a 3 hour break as that way at least I could go for a swim. Most of the backpackers had moved on and the remaining staff were all looking for hours. The first time I found myself fighting for hours I went home and had a think and decided that it really wasn’t worth it. I had studies to do and enough money in the bank that I could call it a day at any time. I even spoke to my boss, half hoping that he would cut my hours so I had a reason to move on but though we had slowed down there were still hours to be had so in the end I stayed.

I can’t say I regret that decision. It’s a good place to work and I enjoyed my time there however as December arrived and the decorations started to appear I knew it was time to call it quits. My boss beat me to the conversation asking me a few days before I planned to speak to him what my plans were. I said I wanted to head east before Christmas and we agreed that I would leave on the 20th as then he would not have to employ anyone else to take my place. It was later than I was thinking but since it seemed to suit the business I no longer felt bad about leaving before I had originally intended and was happy to stay knowing I would soon be on the road again. Having quit my job going back east had become a reality. I set about booking my dive course and hostel in Cairns for January and started to look forward to catching up with my friends on the east coast and travelling again. I got really excited when I booked my dive course but part of me won’t believe it’s really happening until I’m there learning how to dive. I don’t know yet where I’ll next stop for work. I’m fortunate enough that I should have enough money to travel a bit first and hopefully stop somewhere I want to stay rather than need to due to lack of funds.

For now I am still in Broome which is a record since I started travelling. When I leave I’ll have been here for four whole months with only one night away from the hostel when I went camping up to the gorges. The studies are on hold as I embrace the holiday spirit and enjoy the time I have left here. For one thing it is way too hot and humid to study and for another I’ve discovered that hanging about chatting with the folks who are left is way more interesting.  It’s a good thing I didn’t discover this earlier or I suspect no amount of good intentions would have kept me sober, dieting and studious. Now though I am in the mood to be led astray a little, I may even have a few drinks along the way.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Pretending To Be A Grown Up

So it turns out that studying can be really bad for you bank account. Day two of studying involved not one, not two but three skype dates two of which lead to me booking not one, not two but three plane tickets.  The first skype chat was with a good friend from the mountains who invited me to spend Christmas and New Year with her family in Sydney. The second skype was with a friend who has travelled a lot and agreed that £610 was an excellent price for a one way ticket to Australia. Therefore before my browser had even seen a TEFL page I had booked a plane ticket from Perth to Sydney on Christmas eve  and a ticket from London to Singapore on the 8th of May then from Singapore to Perth on the 12th of May.  As if that wasn’t enough I looked into dive courses in Cairns and tours back south and decided that since I was on a roll I might as well book my ticket from Sydney to Cairns whilst I was at it. So by the 3rd of January I shall be in Cairns and with any luck I will be learning to dive by the 5th. Of course being me I then had a fit of conscience about leaving my work but I realised that it was time to look after me. Yes I had planned to stay until mid January but when my friend invited me to have a family Christmas with her my mouth said yes before my brain had even processed the question. Having given both my UK and Australian cards a battering I decided I better get back to my studies before I managed to spend any more money. Of course I can use the excuse of it being an anniversary of sorts. It was my travelling cowpanion’s birthday and therefore officially two years since I had become a backpacker. Making firm plans for my next adventure seemed a good way to celebrate, well that and cake of course!

Sadly life got very boring after that. Though I now had two days off a week instead of going exploring I was spending them studying my TEFL course. I did make excellent headway with it. I had two weeks of work, study and swimming then something different. I had my first counselling session since I started travelling. My counsellor is great. She really gets me and I left looking forward to our next meeting and feeling much more positive about life in general. What followed that was more of the same. I worked studied and swam and Broome got hotter and more and more humid. I had my moments where all I wanted to do was buy a plane ticket or found myself looking at the lifts section of the notice board but my Christmas plans and new counsellor kept me where I was. Life was boring sure but I was making real progress with my course and the saving was going spectacularly well. It turns out that sometimes even backpackers have to make the grown-up choices in life, However, having some decidedly ungrow-up plans definitely made the grown-up time a lot easier to handle, now where was that dive website again......